Sharif’s Strategy To Rehabilitate Ishaq Dar

Pakistan is trying to repair the image of its Finance Minister Ishaq Dar, a name featured in the Panama Papers … writes Dr Sakariya Kareem

The Pakistan government led by Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif is facing a major embarrassment at home and globally due to its handing over the crucial Finance Ministry to a politician who was officially proclaimed an absconder.

Ishaq Dar, an influential member of the leading ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML-N) and the then-serving Finance Minister of the country fled the country after an anti-corruption court in Pakistan indicted him in the Panama Papers case in 2017. Dar was subsequently declared an absconder by a local court as he stayed put in the United Kingdom defying all the notices and summons from the agencies and courts for his appearance. Notably, Dar has a long association with the long-ruling Sharif family of Pakistan as his son has been married to Nawaz Sharif’s daughter Asma Nawaz. He was also imprisoned when the Sharif government was toppled in 1999.

A sequence of events led to the revival of PML (N)’s fortunes and Shahbaz Sharif became Prime Minister in April 2022. More importantly, the passage of five years after the corruption cases and the escape by Dar could not diminish his ‘utility’ for PML (N) and its powerful bosses. The unpredictability of Pak domestic politics was in full display when the government decided to induct the tainted accountant-turned-politician in the federal cabinet as the next Finance Minister of the country.

To facilitate Dar’s smooth return to the country and power, a Pakistani court in September 2022 suspended the arrest warrant and restrained law enforcement agencies from arresting him. Later in the month, the court reversed its earlier orders when the fugitive lawmaker appeared before it after returning from the UK. For the domestic audience, the Pak government portrayed Dar’s return and taking over as Finance Minister as critical for the country’s discussions with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Some went on to claim that Dar was capable of influencing IMF to dilute some of its conditions governing the bailout package for Pakistan. 

Shehbaz Sharif.(photo:instagram)

However, the media, opposition and the international community seem unconvinced with the idea of according such a welcome to a fugitive. The decision became a source of jokes in the mainstream as well as social media. People vividly expressed their anger and disappointment on social media platforms over the appointment and implicit state support of corrupt practices in politics. On some occasions, Ishaq Dar had to face the heat in person. During his visit to the USA earlier this month for discussions with IMF, he was heckled at Washington airport. Some videos showing people calling the Pak Minister a Chor (an Urdu term meaning ‘thief’) went viral on the internet. The incident indicated resentment among the Pakistanis living overseas on such blatant misuse of power by the current government.

Owing to his shady past, Ishaq Dar underwent similar treatment in a different setting in the UK. Immediately after his arrival at London airport on October 11, he was taken along by the immigration and border security officials for questioning. According to some onlookers, the incident happened in full public view and turned into a major embarrassment for Pakistan. Taking note of the incidents and their impact on international media, Pakistan government has ramped up its efforts to salvage the image of its dear minister. The Pak High Commission in London has reportedly approached the UK government to remove all adverse references related to Dar and his corruption cases from its records. The authorities are also expected to reach out to other major countries with the request.

Silencing domestic opposition while manipulating the international perception may provide a short-term respite to the Pak government trying to shed its corrupt image. However, it may promote a long-term malaise which would hold its political system hostage for years to come. The country slipped 16 places on Corruption Perception Index 2021 released by Transparency International earlier this year. Stakes are really high for the country which is brushing aside its dismal rank of 140 out of 180 on the index!

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